The Soviet Union and Iran

Four years after the Iranian Revolution, three years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Carter Doctrine, the Persian Gulf is no longer so much in the news. Many dire predictions were made in the wake of the double crisis of 1979. Some, looking at the collapse of the local security system and the vulnerability of the West's oil supplies to interference, saw in the Soviet military action an imminent military threat to the Gulf and a pattern for future Soviet involvement in this region. Many also doubted that the regime in Iran would last and foresaw a growing Soviet influence in its revolutionary politics.

With hindsight such fears appear overdrawn. The Soviet invasion did not necessarily constitute a deliberate step toward or herald imminent military action in the Gulf. The Iranian regime has proven less brittle and more tenacious than expected, making its control by any outside power difficult. At the time, however, the West's reaction to both Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution was uneven, concentrating on the military threat posed by the U.S.S.R. to the region and, in the public debate, primarily on the issue of oil supplies. The two crises precipitated a panic, resulting in a disorderly reaction by oil companies and consumers which led to a virtual tripling of the price of oil.

Although these two events followed closely upon one another, they were not causally related. To be sure, the collapse of Iran and the subsequent hostage issue focused Western attention on it, facilitating Soviet activity in Afghanistan. The invasion, while not necessarily the pattern for future expansion, was one logical result of an incrementalist Soviet policy that came to equate security with control. Iran, also in turmoil and revolution, was different from Afghanistan in several respects, not least in the Soviet calculus of risks and opportunities which arose from continuing Western attention to Iran. The invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet troops, while making similar action in Iran more difficult, also makes the exercise of Soviet pressure on Iran easier.

Register Now
Non-Subscriber
Register now to get three articles each month. Join us as a paid subscriber and get unrestricted access to all of Foreign Affairs, including on our iPad app.
Please note that we will never share your email address with a third party. Read our privacy policy.
Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis